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The Defeat of Death

A Reading of Sir Henry Rider Haggard’s "Cleopatra</I>

Afroditi-Maria Panaghis

The monograph reads Sir Henry Rider Haggard’s historical romance Cleopatra (1889) with the aim to delineate the last decade of the Victorian period, shed light on the attempt to forge identity, and demonstrate the author’s preoccupation with the concept of coincidentia oppositorum as the basic principle of life, death, and regeneration. Through the mythic figure of Cleopatra, the simulacrum of the goddess Isis, the writer underscores that death can be defeated and immortality attained. By simulating ancient Egypt, submerging in the unconscious, withdrawing from the ephemeral world and espousing the spiritual, he came to terms with his fear of mortality, rejuvenated his self, and redeemed his soul. In perusing the three papyri, discovered in the hero’s sarcophagus, the reader traces the progress from the Ptolemaic degenerate court to that of Isis.

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Chapter Seven: The Defeat of Death

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Chapter Seven The Defeat of Death DAVID A. Leeming in his book The Voyage of the Hero contends that it is natural for the hero in the last stage of his quest to yearn for "eternal life, ascend to heaven, and achieve atonement.”1 In other words, it is expected that he will wish for death in order to escape the tension caused by his desire for a state of peace associated with eternal life on the one hand, and chaos, flux and becoming on the other. From a psychological point of view, this is the final stage in the process of individuation since the hero has already dealt with “childhood, inner self … and the problem of death and is prepared to discover God” and unite with Him.2 After his fall, the protagonist realizes that in order to attain self-transformation and effect a general metamorphosis in the land of Khem, he has to go through self-renewal particularly by means of the voyage downward. Thus by focusing on psychology, myth, and religion Haggard succeeded in depicting the awakening of his hero as well as his emergence from the darkness of the unconscious that is, the grave at Tapi. After having vanished for almost ten years into the darkness of a tomb in the desert, the circumstances were ripe for Harmachis’ return to Alexandria to overthrow Cleopatra and terminate the Ptolemaic dynasty. On another level, the editor is expected to be renewed through the characters’ descent into the underworld and like them,...

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